The Short Version: Compiled by Ann VanderMeer, The Bestiary presents just that: a collection of short writing about strange creatures, one for each letter of the alphabet (as well as ‘&’ and an invisible letter).
The Review: I think sometimes that there isn’t quite enough wonder in the world, particularly of the magical variety. I don’t necessarily mean the magic of wand-waving wizards and the like (although they’re not excluded) but the sort of magic that comes from a moment’s turn towards the unexpected. Every time a researcher scans Loch Ness or a shoddy photo of Bigfoot is revealed to be just a very hirsute man, our sense of the possibility of things inexplicable fades a bit.
Thank the gods, then, for the crack team of researchers Ann VanderMeer has pulled together. Out there on the bleeding edge of discovery, these twenty-eight brave souls have brought to us new marvels to reignite a sense of magic and wonder at the overwhelming breadth of possibility found in the universe: one animal for every letter of the Latin alphabet – as well as (rightly included) entries for the Ampersand and for the . Your view of the world outside your front door will never be the same.
Some of the beasts contained here are, of course, already well-known to some of you. The Daydreamer by Proxy, for example, has proved to be a great symbiotic addition to the workforce of Geneertech and Dexter Palmer is to be thanked for bringing readers the Geneertech Employee info packet about hosting one of these special critters. And the discovery of the Rapacis X. Loco Signa (detailed here by Lisa L. Hannett) certainly changed the way we understand the formation of such geological marvels as the Grand Canyon, didn’t it? Not to mention, on a grander scale, the cosmological shake-up caused by Vandana Singh’s discovery of (or is it “making contact with”?) the Yakshantariksh.
Some entries, of course, make for stronger reading than others. Interestingly, it’s the entries that hew closer to the standard format of a bestiary entry (or an entry in any similarly purposed codex) that are the most enjoyable whereas those that attempt to experiment with the form leave the reader a little cold, almost as unknowledgeable as they were when they cracked the text. Still, even these entries provide some illumination for the layperson and I urge the curious reader not to skip even a single one – for who knows when we might be faced with a Nothus Barathruma and wishing we’d paid more attention instead of skipping ahead to the entry by China Miéville, that rockstar among chroniclers of the strange. (One does wonder if other researchers might feel about Miéville as Steve Zissou does about Alistair Hennessey – but, then, few could survive the exploration and chronicling of a creature like the , let alone write about it as captivatingly as he does.)
Even I myself, a student of obscure “folklores” and “mythical” beings, found some incredibly illuminating surprises among these pages. Joseph Nigg’s work on the Jason Bug is terrific stuff – and Catherynne M. Valente’s entry about the Orsinus Liborum was, astonishingly, brand new to me. It had never occurred, even after all my time in libraries, that it was a beast such as the book bear could be the cause of all the many gaps in our historical collections. It also helps that she has a particular way with words, delivering hard scientific fact alongside bon mots like these: “April is a fickle witch with an ice-bound daffodil for a heart” and “Noble blood has the sense of direction of a vertigo-afflicted dodo”. Her work in this collection (as well as that of Mr. Nigg, Mr. Brian Conn [whose work on the Guest is the biggest exception to my previously stated ambivalence about non-traditional formatting: he describes the arrival of and host cycle of the Guest with icy aplomb, far better than any academic entry ever could], and Mr. Corey Redekop) has added her name (as well as those other names mentioned) to my list of writers to follow outside of their academic pursuits – for their bios and small secondary entries in this collection imply much, much more to discover.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Conceptually brilliant, Ann VanderMeer has curated a top-notch collection of some of the strangest creatures you’ve never heard of, described and codified by some of the best of the best in this weird world. Some entries are more successful than others – the ones that veer too far into the structurally-weird lose the playfulness of the prompt and are ultimately forgettable, while the ones that hew closest to the expected form tend to be the most memorable – but the whole thing is a delight for lovers of cryptozoology, the Weird, and short stories that aren’t quite like any other shorts you’ve read. A must-have for any explorer, even the most ordinary ones.